As a general rule, if Donald Trump is accusing somebody else of doing something wrong, there’s a good chance he’s either done something similar in the past, or is engaged in analogous activity currently.
On Sunday, for example, Trump accused Joe Biden of extortion. “Sleepy Joe won’t get to the starting gate, & based on all of the money he & his family probably ‘extorted,’ Joe should hang it up”, the president tweeted. The “starting gate” bit was a reference to Biden falling behind Elizabeth Warren in a handful of polls. The “extortion” reference is to Ukraine.
While nobody has ever produced any concrete evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son Hunter in Ukraine, we do have evidence of Trump extorting the country. That evidence came courtesy of Trump himself, who inexplicably released a transcript of his infamous July phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, which contains the following word-for-word exchange:
President Zelenskyy: We are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps. Specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes…
The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike.
That, right there, is extortion.
But not if you ask Trump. To him, it’s an example of “a perfect phone call”.
In any event, AP on Sunday evening revealed that while Rudy Giuliani was in the process of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and Burisma for the second or third time, a cabal of Republican businessmen were busy touting their ties to Trump and Giuliani while attempting to orchestrate a management shakeup at Naftogaz, the country’s state gas company.
The idea, four sources told AP, was to install new management who would then channel business to allies of Trump. Ultimately, Rick Perry took up the idea, pressuring the country to oust Naftogaz’s supervisory board.
Politico detailed some of this on Saturday. “Among other changes, Perry pushed for Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz to expand its board to include Americans”, Ben Lefebvre and Daniel Lippman wrote, adding that “two longtime energy executives based in Perry’s home state of Texas were among those under consideration for that role”.
Lefebvre and Lippman go on to provide further details of Perry’s various adventures in Ukraine. To wit:
Among Perry’s numerous visits with Zelenksy and other Ukraine officials in the past year was a dinner with Zelensky, Trump’s son-law-Jared Kushner and other officials in June, according to a government photo taken by the US of the event. The two met again the following month with Polish government officials to sign the energy cooperation agreement, according to news releases. Perry also attended the bilateral meeting with Zelenksy and Trump in New York on Sept. 25, a DOE spokesperson confirmed.
The Politico piece hints at what AP reported explicitly on Sunday evening.
Apparently, Perry suggested Naftogaz add Houston oil executive Robert Bensh to the board, along with Texas private equity chief Michael Bleyzer. A pair of Giuliani’s clients chatted with the company earlier this year “to pitch themselves as suppliers of US natural gas”, Politico writes, citing other media reports. The clients – Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – are Trump donors (do yourself a favor and read about their relationship with Giuliani here).
This all comes as Perry is widely expected to resign in the coming weeks.
According to Axios, Trump told House Republicans on Friday that it was Perry who convinced him to set up the July call with Zelensky. Some have suggested that may mean the president is setting Rick up to take the fall for the comically brazen conversation which is, of course, at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.